Ryan Blaney took the checkered flag to win the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway Sunday (Oct. 1), locking himself into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 8. It is Blaney’s second win of the season and the first for Penske Racing since that win in the Coca-Cola 600 in May. It is also Blaney’s third career win at Talladega.
“Pretty wild last restart, but let alone the last couple laps, kind of losing momentum, then getting it back. Just getting clear to the bottom to get to the front row to drag race it out with Kevin,” Blaney said in his post-race interview.
Blaney also shouted out Riley Herbst, who was in his fourth Cup start of the season and helped the Fords draft throughout the entire race, finishing in 10th sliding sideways across the line to tie his best-ever Cup Series finish:
“To win three times here at Talladega, that’s super cool. I have to give a big thanks to Riley Herbst, he did a really good job there at the last couple of restarts. He hasn’t had a lot of Cup starts but he did a great job in pushing me so big thanks to him.”
“I won it by more than I have the last couple of years. That one might have been by about four feet, the others may have been about two. But yeah, you just don’t know, I mean you just gotta drag race to the line, hope you get help, and William gave me a pretty good shove on the bottom, he was kind of forced to. But yeah, I wasn’t sure until Josh [Williams] said something.”
Several drivers traded the lead approaching the finish, starting with Alex Bowman and Harvick controlling the bottom and middle lanes with 10 laps to go. Bowman changed lanes with nine laps to go and allowed Chase Elliott to take the lead before Bowman got shuffled to the top lane.
Byron took the lead with four laps to go and held it until he moved down to the bottom lane, allowing Harvick to advance the middle lane to the front. With three laps to go, Harvick had a huge push by Blaney that allowed Harvick to start blocking the bottom lane, which in turn left the middle lane wide open, allowing Blaney to take charge of the race.
For the final two laps, Harvick and Blaney battled side by side to the line, where it was Blaney who had the pushing help and won out. As they crossed the line nearly the entire field wrecked on the frontstretch.
Behind Blaney and Harvick was Byron who ended up being scored in third. However, following post-race inspection, Harvick was disqualified when it was discovered that his window fasteners were not secured properly, resulting in a potential advantage over the field. This means that every driver behind him was bumped up one position, starting with Byron who grabbed the second position. Filling up the rest of the top five was Denny Hamlin, who came back from a speeding penalty, Corey LaJoie, who has tied his best Cup Series finish with a fourth-place result, and Austin Cindric in fifth.
Elliott and Suárez were both involved in the final crash, sliding sideways across the line alongside Herbst. Preece and Haley just barely squeezed by on the outside. Behind them were Chandler Smith, Chase Briscoe, Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Aric Almirola, and a multitude of other drivers who were caught up in the mess.
By the finish, many drivers already had damage from being involved in the many incidents throughout the day. Ross Chastain was the first car out, following a lap 60 crash involving Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Busch. Chastain was originally scored in last place before Harvick was disqualified but was bumped up to 37th. Bell also received nose damage in that wreck, keeping him from pushing for the majority of the race.
A huge crash late in stage 3 brought out the red flag and took out multiple cars as a result of an aggressive push by Brad Keselowski and Carson Hocevar dragging the throttle down the frontstretch. Austin Dillon and Ty Gibbs, who had a gas can light on fire earlier in the race, crashed headfirst into the wall, clipping Keselowski and taking all three of them out of the race.
This race saw a substantial amount of drafting strategy and teamwork being employed, with the Hendrick Motorsports cars committing to the bottom lane for the majority of the race, while the Fords stuck to the top and middle lanes. It was through this help that Blaney was able to win stage one, while Keselowski took the victory in stage two.
Erik Jones, Hamlin, and Austin Cindric had penalties, each going a lap down during the race, and worked throughout the day to get back onto the lead lap. Hamlin lost the battle for the “free pass” in stage two to Hocevar but got back to the lead lap later in the race.
In the playoffs standings, Blaney joins Byron in advancing to the Round of 8, while Hamlin is nearly locked into the next round at plus 50 due to his fourth-place finish.
Behind them, Bell is plus 22 following a 14th-place finish, Buescher is plus 19 after finishing 19th and Truex hung on to be scored at plus 17 with a 20th-place finish. Larson went from being on the cutline to being plus 15 after his finish in 15th and Keselowski is now only plus two after his big wreck, which resulted in him being scored with a DNF in 32nd.
The running is close below the cutline, with Reddick only minus two after finishing 16th. Chastain was minus nine as a result of his crash, but now sits minus ten after Harvick’s disqualification. Bubba Wallace is now minus nine after a 23rd-place finish and Busch is nearing must-win territory with a 27th-place finish, netting him a result of minus 26 on the leaderboard. Busch was also the lowest-finishing playoff driver with a running car.
The Round of 12 for the NASCAR Cup Series will conclude at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL on Sunday, October 8, and will be broadcast live on NBC at 2 p.m. ET.
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